BELFAST – OVER 100 TURN OUT ON AN ICY NIGHT TO RECAP THE WARM DAYS OF KIBBUTZ YORE by LYDIA AISENBERG – from the Kibbutz movement’s website in Israel.
Temperatures below zero and snow on the mountains around Belfast did not deter well over one hundred folks from Northern Ireland attending the Belfast event.
Organized by the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, Aya Sagi and the writer were extremely warmly welcomed by NIFI co-chairman Steven Jaffe who in the early 1980s had been a volunteer at Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek where the volunteer leader – the writer! – was the volunteer director.
“During the time I was there you got me a ‘cushy’ job in the kitchens and remember you giving me books about the history of the kibbutz movement and how I marveled at the ideological commitment to Chinese or Soviet models. I was 18 then, 46 now!” exclaimed Steven.
Many of the people gathered in Belfast who had spent time in kibbutzim had done so mostly in the 60s, 70s and 80s and included North Belfast Assembly member Alban Maginness who said his own kibbutz volunteer period had had a formative influence on his political career. “I learned a great deal about social responsibility during my time on kibbutz – where, by the way, I worked preparing chickens for market in a nearby town and in the banana plantations,” the Assemblyman told the audience.
An exhibition of photographs explored the connections between Northern Ireland and the Kibbutz movement, showing Kibbutz pioneers training at the Millisle refugee farm during the Second World War – many of whom were to eventually make their home at Kibbutz Lavi in the Galilee.
Over a dozen ex-volunteers from Northern Ireland spoke very positively of their experiences in Israel, whatever the period of time they spent there, or the year. Belfast vintage car renovator and businessman Jim Black, who also volunteered on Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek in the 1970s, told those gathered that his kibbutz experience had been lifesaving. He has remained in close touch with his ‘kibbutz family’ since and some years ago spent a week on the kibbutz together with a small group of Catholic and Protestant trainee mechanics who had renovated a vintage Rolls Royce together. Jim drove the car through Europe to Greece, continuing the journey to Haifa by ship. Those involved in the project plus two instructors flew to Israel and all were hosted at Mishmar HaEmek for the duration of their stay in Israel